Oct 15, 2012

The 2012 Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge is on!

Enjoy more nutritious holiday feast, and get a chance to win one of three great books: Wild About Greens, Vegan for the Holidays or Artisan Vegan Cheese.

Why a Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge?  Well, most Thanksgiving recipes are loaded with butter and cream … not to mention sodium, sugar and red meat. It’s the quintessential “heart attack on a plate.” But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about giving up stuffing, gravy or apple pie here!  Just making them better. With the Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge, I hope to put together a group of holiday recipes that won’t leave your arteries crying “uncle.”

Want to participate? Here’s how:

Fellow food bloggers: Make a healthy Thanksgiving dish and post the recipe on your blog by November 15 17. Please link to this page in your post and feel free to download and display the Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge badge. I’ll include select recipes on a roundup of participants on November 16 19.

Everybody: Enter the cookbook giveaway by following the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget below!  There are five different ways to enter, by doing things like leaving a comment, linking to your blog post or sharing the Challenge with your friends and followers. (Tip: Publishing your own linked blog post with a recipe counts as five entries!)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’ll be sharing some of my own favorite Thanksgiving recipes over the next few weeks. In the meantime, use my 10 Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving as a guide for planning your feast. (Note: I don’t pretend to be an expert and I’m certainly not a nutritionist, but these are my personal guidelines for a healthy holiday. Feel free to comment with your own tips.)

10 Tips For A Heart-Healthy Thanksgiving

1. Say no to butter, heavy cream and full-fat cheese
Instead of butter – or heaven forbid, shortening – make heart-healthy choices like extra virgin olive oil, high-oleic safflower oil, organic canola oil or macadamia nut oil. This goes for the outside of the turkey, sautéing vegetables, enriching stuffing, and baking pies (see Tip #9). To replace heavy cream in soups or sauces, try evaporated skim milk or cashew cream. Fat-free yogurt and sour cream can be used in mashed potatoes, creamy dips, soups, sauces and more. If a recipe calls for whole milk, use skim, soy or almond milk.  There are many reduced-fat cheeses available, and fat-free ricotta and feta are surprisingly good when used in recipes (albeit processed, hypocritically violating Tip#10.)

2. Ditch the fatty  meats
Sausage stuffing? Bacon-wrapped turkey? No, you really don’t the extra saturated fat on this already-decadent day. For your stuffing, consider crumbled Field Roast vegetarian sausages (although they are super high in sodium, so use sparingly). The smoked apple variety is particularly well suited for Thanksgiving. Wild mushrooms (fresh or dried) can also lend a wonderfully meaty flavor. Smoked paprika can add a bacon-y taste, too. And if you’re cooking a turkey, be sure to remove any extra globs of fat before you roast (leave the skin on of course, but don’t eat it.)

3. Use whole grains
Less white flour = fewer empty calories and carbs. White whole wheat flour and whole wheat pastry flour are superior substitutes. Use them for your baking, and try whole grain breads for your stuffing. Find ways to work in whole grains like quinoa and barley into the meal – there’s no rule that stuffing has to be made with bread, and gluten-free folks will appreciate an alternative, too.

4. Look beyond the turkey
If there are any vegetarians at your table, they deserve more than a plain hunk of tofu. With vegetarian entrees that serve as centerpieces in their own right, you’ll have hardcore meat eaters straying from the turkey platter. Festive stuffed pumpkin or squashsmoky maple seitan sausages, shepherd’s piewild mushroom strudel … the possibilities are endless.

5. Cut down on the salt
Start with one third the amount that would be used in a traditional recipe (except for baking recipes) and go from there. You’ll be surprised that you don’t miss the excessive amount. Use lemon juice to brighten the flavors of vegetables, which will reduce the need for salt.  If you are using commercial broths, be sure to look for the lowest sodium brands you can find.

6. Watch the sugar
Sure you’re going to eat pie this Thanksgiving, and I’m all for that (as long you follow the guidelines below – see Tip #9). But to make up for it, reduce or eliminate the sugar in other places, such as in your sweet potatoes and cranberries. Try chopping and roasting sweet potatoes with savory herbs and spices instead of making a traditional sugary sweet casserole, and serve a less-sweet (but no less delicious) cranberry sauce. Bring sweetness to the table with naturally sweet vegetables like beets and with fresh fruit in salads. And remember, sugars also come from carbs, so do yourself a favor and don’t serve bread with your meal. It’s really the last thing you need, especially with bread stuffing.

7. Go overboard on vegetables
Mashed potatoes don’t count, people!  Instead of one vegetable side dish, why not serve four or five?  Green salads are often missing on the Thanksgiving table, and it’s a shame – bitter greens like watercress, arugula and radicchio are holiday naturals, especially when combined with seasonal fruits and nuts. Be sure to make some superstar vegetables like kale, brussels sprouts and broccoli so you can load up on antioxidants. Remember, the more vegetables on your plate, the less carbs and sugar you’ll eat during the meal. And speaking of mashed potatoes, try replacing half the potatoes with more nutritious vegetables like cauliflower, carrots or even beets.

8. De-fat your gravy
If you’re a meat eater, turkey gravy is an essential. But it doesn’t have to be made with loads of turkey fat. Here’s the Mayo Clinic’s method for low fat turkey gravy. Of course, you can also make a rich, flavorfulvegetarian gravy that will knock the meat eaters’ socks off.

9. Lighten up dessert
Pie is a holiday practically a requirement. But here are some guidelines. Fruit pies tend to be better choices, but it is also possible to make a heart-healthy pumpkin pie. Whatever pie you make, be sure the crust is heart-healthy and not full of butter or shortening.  Use whole wheat pastry flour for at least half of the amount called for. Skip the step of dotting fruit pie fillings with butter, it is simply not necessary. Instead of a top and bottom crust, try a top-only crust – and if you cut it into rough pieces and patch it together, you’ve got a pandowdy.  If you really want to lighten up your Thanksgiving dinner, baked apples are a delicious but often-ignored light dessert alternative.

10. Avoid processed foods
Processed foods tend to be high in salt, calories and unhealthy fats. Use Eating Rules’ October: Unprocessed guidelines: “If you pick up something with a label (and if it doesn’t have a label, it’s probably unprocessed), and find an ingredient you’d never use in your kitchen and couldn’t possibly make yourself from the whole form, it’s processed.”


See more recipes: Miscellaneous


  • I LOVE this idea! I’m definitely going to join up!

  • gail

    sounds neat

  • […] Herb Blogging, hosted by Marta, to Ricki’s Wellness Weekend, to Healthy Vegan Fridays, to the Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge, and to this month’s Herbs on […]

  • Nice to see you doing this again, Cathy! I linked up a delicious maple cranberry quinoa stuffed squash for your event (us Canadians already had our Thanksgiving!). :)


  • jacquie

    love the idea and as a vegetarian i’m all for the loading up on the veggies. also i tend to find that less butter/heavy sauces that are used the more food taste like itself and is more enjoyable.

  • Perrie

    I roasted butternut squash and brussels sprouts for dinner, cooked up a pot of adzuki beans, mixed 2 cups of the beans with the squash and brussels sprouts, and tossed everything with olive oil, nutritional yeast, salt & pepper, and diced red peppers for color. I really think spinach or kale could also be tossed in for a glorious vegan casserole!

    This dish was amazingly tasty even without the greens! Try it.

  • Perrie

    Apples are amazing at this time of year. For a simple and delicious dessert, make homemade applesauce. I like to use cortlands and honeycrisps, with 1 quince thrown in to add a beautiful pink hue to the finished product. You just need a hint of honey or agave, a squeeze of lemon juice, and 1 or 2 oz of water. Simmer on low for an hour or more. Add a cinnamon stick while cooking for a flavor change. Enjoy!

  • We don’t have thanksgiving in Ireland but these are tips we would definitely be promoting for Christmas! Going overboard on veggies is the best one…being vegan it’s something I like to advocate :)

  • DRTVrMoi

    As I struggle with my weight loss efforts, this challenge makes the calorie-laden holidays bearable.

  • I like the challenge of making healthier dishes and desserts for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas…and I usually find that I love healthier versions even more than the traditional ones!

  • Nd

    Always a good idea to try and healthify food-laden holidays. Start the whole season on the right foot.

  • Audrey

    That shepherd’s pie looks delicious

  • […] great Thanksgiving side dish if you’re trying to create a healthier Thanksgiving dinner. See The Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge at What Would Cathy Eat for more details. /* apples, Frieda's, heirloom apples, Pink Pearl, […]

  • this is such an awesome idea! thanks for emailing me :)

  • Charlene

    Great tips for healthier foods that taste good.

  • I love this challenge–and all three of those cookbooks! I would love to own any one of them. Thanks for hosting this!

  • Wonderful idea to start the holiday season off with healthy food choices.
    Although I believe a bit of grass fed cultured butter is completely appropriate in some foods, you are so right about the vast quantities consumed in the months before New Years.
    Thanks for the roundup.

  • bitt

    definitely looking forward to healthy homemade thanksgiving food! i’ve already practiced some sugar-free pie recipes.

  • Saw your request on facebook… My crockpot sweet potatoes are a hit every year… http://greenlitebites.com/2008/11/22/thanksgiving-prep-crockpot-sweet-potatoes/

  • Thanks for the email and I will send you the link tomorrow 11/15…

  • Whoops – I skipped a week – How about 11/9? Sorry..

  • Sounds good, Liz!

  • I just found your blog and love it! These tips are perfect-Can’t wait to have a healthy Thanksgiving:)

  • […] Turkey for Thanksgiving is a sure thing in our family, so I turn to side dishes for variety in my menu. My favorite holiday is right around the corner and I’m working on this year’s menu. It’s  a perfect opportunity to contribute a healthy side dish to Cathy of “What Would Cathy Eat?” and her Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge. […]

  • I posted my recipe for Silky Butternut Squash & Cauliflower Soup! I love your heart healthy tips too : )
    Thanks for doing the challenge Cathy!

  • a marie hj saver

    Thanks for the contest. It’s so hard to follow my own best advice during the holidays, as there is so much nostalgia caught up with food that is frankly unhealthy and kind of gross. Thanks for this- it may help me keep my head on straight.

  • […] is the third of my Thanksgiving recipes for this year’s Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge. Be sure to take part, and while you’re at it, enter to win some great […]

  • […] November 12, 2012 By Leave a Comment Tweet Pin ItI’m excited to present a Thanksgiving Challenge guest post by Valentina K. Wein of the lovely blog Cooking on the Weekends. Valentina knows her […]

  • I just posted my Healthy Thanksgiving recipe. Thanks for hosting this challenge!

  • Hi Kathy! Just stopping by with another recipe for your awesome Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge!

    Individual Apple Crumbles: http://livliveslife.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/individual-apple-crumbles/

    Thanks so much for the great idea! :-)

  • Whew! Almost missed the cut off. Thanks for the invite, Cathy! This year I went with a DIY Jellied Cranberry Sauce using honey and fruit juice as sweeteners. Hope you enjoy it!


  • […] gluten-free pie crust recipe. If you want more healthy Thanksgiving ideas, please check out the Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge hosted by What Would Cathy […]

  • Judith

    So glad I found u. U have great recipies. Great idea. Will sign up

  • […] What Would Cathy Eat’s Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge […]

  • […] 5,264 recipes bookmarked, pinned, or starred on my Google Reader that I’m considering for the Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge hosted by Kathy over at What Would Kathy […]